When things don't work out...

Yesterday we learned that God has a sense of humor.

It's summer in Texas, which means it hasn't rained in 2 months. It also means we have daylight until somewhere around 8:30 or 9:00pm. So, a few of us guys decided to try to get in a quick 18 holes of golf beginning at 5pm last night. It was going to be the highlight of my week.

Even after we started, it was looking like it was going to be a perfect day. The temperatures had cooled off to a breezy 98 degrees, and I was hitting the ball pretty well. In fact, I was 2 over after 5 holes, which those of you who have played with me before know is a fairly significant achievement. It was likely to be a career day for me...

Then the lightning started and the skies opened up.

We stood in the rain for about 10 minutes trying to wait it out, but finally decided it wasn't going to stop and went to the clubhouse. We got our rain checks and arrived back home about the time the sky cleared up. For the remaining two hours of daylight, the temperature was about 80 degrees with a nice summer breeze.

Sometimes things just don't work out the way you plan...

Is it enough?

Is the goal of our preaching/teaching life change? For years I said that it was, but I feel myself moving a little bit on that based on some things I've observed over the past several years. These days, I'm not sure that goal is well enough defined.

Life-change is important, don't get me wrong, but life-change has to be based on something. Some preaching philosophies seem to base it on common sense. Those pastors spend the majority of their time developing an image, or using narrative to help people arrive at a specific conclusion. The main thrust of the message is the point at which someone tells the story of how God pulled them out of an adulterous relationship, and now their life is better. Thus, they say, you should leave your adulterous relationship.

The problem with that being the main thrust of the message is that your experience might be different than theirs. Your life might be harder after you leave a bad relationship. Your wife might not take you back. If the primary basis of our persuasion toward life-change is story/someone else's experience, we're in trouble.

Story is fine. Narrative is fine. It's important to hear how God has used an application of Truth in another person's life. But at some point we have to be diligent to remind people that the Truth isn't in the story - the Truth is in the Scriptures.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that our primary goal doesn't need to be life-change. Our primary goal needs to be life-change based on a right understanding of the Scriptures. If someone walks away from our services different, but without an understanding of the true basis/reason for life-change, we're simply motivational speakers who get to play the God card.

Help people understand what the Bible says, and life change will always follow. The reverse isn't necessarily true.

Community or Club?

For the past several months I've been thinking a lot about "community." Community is one of the new buzz words for Christians - we talk about how church needs to be a place where we live "in community," or where we "do community." But when many churches talk about wanting community, what they really want is a club.

Clubs are groups of people with a shared interest. They may have initiation rites, unique language, and are almost always inward focused. They come together to celebrate their shared interest, but avoid any concept of being different since their time together is limited and focused. Clubs are set apart, and in effect help a group of people avoid the reality that most people are not like them, at least for a while.

A real community is based around more than a singular common interest. They are focused outward. Their differences are the things that allow them to thrive, though they have common interests and goals that propel them forward. They recognize that they need each other, and that others make them better.

Most of us innately want to do life with others. But if we're honest, most of us don't want those people to be different from us. We want a club, not a community.


Last week was a week of stress. This week is a week of rest. Aside from a few life-giving lunch meetings this week, I've completely kept my schedule clear. I've found that I have to be extremely careful how I balance stress and rest in my own ministry. I need sprints to keep life exciting, but I also need some downhill coasts to let me catch my wind.

The balance of stress and rest is important in my personal life, but I find it's also important in the life of whole ministries. As a leader, I work hard to maintain a delicate balance of stress and rest in the ministries I lead, and in the lives of the leaders I lead. It's my responsibility to give them time to rest, and times of stress - both those times stretch them and refresh them.

If you don't provide times of stress in ministry, the ministry will feel dry and lifeless. But if you don't provide times of rest in ministry, there won't be any time for people to connect and refresh. You've got to provide both stress and rest, and balance them carefully.

I'm resting this week, and can't wait. By Friday I'll be ready to stress again. That's the way it's supposed to work.

Family Friday - Baby Watch

We're about a month away from the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz Freeland. Kari's official due date is August 28th, but we think she may be able to induce as early as August 25th. That would work better for my schedule, seeing as how I've got a wedding the week after the 28th I need to be rested up for. And, college football season officially starts August 28th, so it would be nice to not have to watch those games in the hospital.

What? This baby isn't going to schedule his life around my schedule?

Seriously, people keep asking me if I'm "ready" for the baby to show up. The answer is, I'm as prepared as I can be, but I'm probably not ready.

It's like my two weddings this past weekend. I know from meeting with both of those couples that they were as prepared as they could be to be married. They'd done some extensive premarital counseling and talked about a lot of the things that can bite a married couple. But I also know from experience that they weren't "ready." There will be surprises for them - some good, some bad, but surprises nonetheless.

I'm not so naive to think I'm "ready" to be a father. I've read the books, I've observed a great father for 28 years, I know the Bible passages.... I'm prepared, but I'm not ready.

It will be nice, however, for me to finally have a part in the parenting. Right now, my experience with Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is limited to a ultra-sound television screen and hormonal wife (both have been a delight, of course). Kari gets to/has to feel him moving around all the time. She's experiencing the pregnancy - I'm just watching it.

Trust me, I'm not complaining. I completely understand that I get the best end of this parenting deal... but I'm ready to experience fatherhood too. Check that: I'm prepared to experience fatherhood too.

What are we known for?

I just had a great lunch with three of the guys in our young adult ministry who are a part of the group of guys studying and teaching through the New Testament in our classes this year. We were talking about 1 Corinthians 1, and how Paul makes such a big deal about the fact that his message is Christ and Him crucified.

I wonder what would happen if we had walked downtown and done an impromptu "Man on the Street" interview with the people walking by. I wonder if we had asked them to describe the message of Christianity in a sentence what they would have come up with.

My guess is that we would have received hundreds of answers: Christianity is about being pro-life, anti-homosexual, conservative, pro-family, pro-moral reform and ethics...

I wonder how many people would have said, "Christianity is about Christ and Him crucified?"

It's okay to be a lot of the things listed above, but when those things become the message, something is seriously wrong. What are you known for? What do you stand for? Is it Christ and Him crucified, or something else?

Back when I knew it all...

I heard a funny song when I was channel-surfing on my radio yesterday on the way home. It's a country song called "Back When I Knew It All" by Montgomery Gentry. I don't particularly care for the song, but the words are funny because I can relate.

I remember the day I set foot on the campus of Dallas Theological Seminary. I knew so much about the Bible those days. I could argue all the hard passages, and teach with great authority. I had lots of answers, but without much substance back when I knew it all.

Seminary has a way of blowing a few of your categories. Sometimes that's hard on guys. You hear stories about guys walking away from the faith, or turning completely inward when they realize the Bible doesn't fit together in nice little categories like they thought. Although He is completely faithful to do what He said, God doesn't behave according to a system, which really messes up some seminarians who need God to fit into their box.

I came away from seminary with the opposite effect. Though I've still got a long way to go, I think it made me a much more humble teacher. There are some things I know for sure and will speak about dogmatically, but that list is a lot smaller than back when I knew it all.

When you're talking about an infinite God and His Word, there's a very real sense that the more you know, the more you know you don't understand. There is some tension in Scripture, and that's a neat thing. It can drive you batty, or it can remind you that you serve a God who is bigger than your systems, theories, and presuppositions, and drive you to worship.

I feel like I know a lot less, but my God is a lot bigger now that I don't know it all. I think that's a good trade.


I'm in the middle of preparing a sermon for Sunday from 2 Peter 2:10-22. Pray for me... it's a really tough passage to preach.

2 Peter 2:19 is pretty interesting though. I love the commentary on "freedom." See, there's a difference between "freedom" and "autonomy." Autonomy means you get to act without regard for anyone or anything else. Freedom means the ability to act without constraint. Christ offers us freedom on the basis of the cross, but that freedom doesn't mean we should live as though our identity and behavior are completely disconnected.

Typically, as Peter points out, people who live autonomous lives aren't free at all.


Ministry (and the Christian life) really is just like a foot race (Hebrews 12:1-2). I haven't ever run a marathon, and probably won't ever run a marathon, but I've always loved hearing the stories of those who do.

Any distance runner will tell you the way to run a long race is to set it up like many small races. Pick the time you want for each leg of the race, and aim for that. When you run in small increments, it's more difficult to get overwhelmed and much easier to take one challenge at a time.

I feel like I'm on an uphill leg of the race right now. I've got several big projects I'm working on at the church, and a really difficult passage to prepare for my sermon Sunday. It's going to be a difficult week. But, Hebrews 12:1-2 has been a great encourage to me this morning. Here are my goals this week:

1. Remember: others are watching (12:1).
2. Get rid of the distractions, sinful and otherwise (12:1).
3. Run the right race - the one marked out for me; not a bunch of other little races (12:1).
4. Keep it in perspective - the goal of the week isn't to complete a sermon, it's to serve the Author and Perfecter of my faith well (12:2).
5. Remember the joy to come (12:2).

See you at the finish line.

Family Friday - Anniversary Month

Yesterday was a fun day. I spent yesterday morning and early afternoon in various meetings, ran home to let the dog out, and then ran to a wedding rehearsal and then met Kari at the rehearsal dinner.

Oh yeah - it was our anniversary.

Depending on which side of the aisle you're on, I'm a (1) grossly negligent husband, (2) genius for allowing someone else to pay for my anniversary dinner.

The good thing is this: In my family, we celebrate anniversary and birthday month, not just a day. It works out pretty well - especially around birthdays.

Beginning June 19th, I get to claim "birthday month" for anything I want. That extends through August 19th, one month after my birthday. It's really fun when you are trying to decide where you want to eat for dinner:

Me: I'm feeling like pizza.
Kari: Gross.
Me: Birthday Month.
Kari: Crap.

Birthday Month is the super-trump-card my mom started when we were young that allows us to get our way whenever we want it. It's my favorite time of year.

So, I don't worry about the fact that someone else paid for our dinner last night and it was ultimately pretty unromantic. It's anniversary month - I'm sure Kari will get a nice dinner at some point... just as soon as she cooks it up.

I'd post more today, but I'm off to hit some golf balls. Don't I have a billion other things to do? Sure I do, but it's birthday month.

Going to the chapel...

One of the most fun things about working with a young singles ministry is that I get to do a ton of weddings. It's also one of the most challenging things about working with young singles. Young singles tend to get married, which tends to deplete your leadership team pretty quickly. We always have to be in leadership recognition mode, or we'll end up with a leadership vacuum.

Not even college ministry has the same turnover rate as a young singles ministry - they keep people for 4 (or 5 or 6) years. We have a few strong young singles who have been around that long, but for the most part the shelf-life of a healthy young single person in our singles ministry is one or two years, and we don't even have the "meat-market" mentality that some other young singles ministries adopt.

Some people would see the above challenge as a whip - I see it as an opportunity for greater influence. Even though I know our leadership team is going to turn over regularly, an investment in their life means healthy young married groups for us and the other churches these people fan out to. If we get to influence someone for a year, and they go out to make a significant difference somewhere else, I just look at it as the opportunity to broaden our influence.

This weekend, I'm doing two weddings for two leadership couples in Eikon, our young singles ministry. After today I will have married off 6 of the 8 singles who were on the Eikon leadership team at this time last year. That's pretty exciting, because we've got 6 or 8 more great leaders ready to step in and carry the baton (especially after they see statistics like that!).

Congratulations to Mitchell and Katie, and Korey and Ginger this weekend. I'm proud of all four of these individuals, and am looking forward to starting two new godly families this weekend.

Power of a Mentor

I had a meeting last night and didn't get to watch the Major League Home Run Derby that is a part of All Star Weekend. But all I've heard this morning is about Josh Hamilton's record-breaking 28 home runs in the first round. What was even better was to see that the man who Hamilton chose to throw him batting practice was a 72 year old man who had been a mentor to him, and helped lead Hamilton out of a time when he was making some extremely destructive choices.

Hamilton isn't out of the woods yet as far as sobriety is concerned, and a part of me is concerned that he is receiving so much spotlight so soon. My prayer is that he will be able to live out Hebrews 12:1-2, keeping his eyes focused on Jesus, because the fall from a pedestal hurts a lot worse than a fall from your knees.

Even still, the story from last night was so compelling. It was so neat to see a 72 year old man living the dream - throwing batting practice in Yankee Stadium, in the home run derby, to a man who set an all-time record for the most home runs in the first round of the derby. All because this man saw something worth salvaging and developing in the life of another person.

It's a great reminder: if you take the time to pour your life into the life of another - especially if they're an unlikely recipient of your attention - they will never forget you.

Two Kinds of Leaders

My experience and observation is that there are two kinds of leadership: Institutional Leadership and Influential Leadership. The first happens when someone is given a type of role or position within an institution; they're the boss. The second kind of leadership happens apart from any position or role by people who have a giftedness, expertise, or character that is noted by others and followed.

If you have an institutional leadership position that requires you to appoint other leaders, make sure you never appoint someone to a position of leadership who has not proven themselves to be an influencer already. The type of person who sits around waiting for a position so they can lead is not the person you want in a position of authority. People who think leadership is about position are dangerous leaders because they inevitably equate leadership with power.

The best institutional leaders are ones who are already leading by influence. When you give them an institutional role, their leadership doesn't change except in scope. Those are the kinds of people you want in roles of authority.

Bad Theology Comes from Bad Anthropology

Had a great discussion this morning with some of the guys from the church. They've been doing a book study group on Friday mornings for the last several years, and I crashed their party about a year ago. They're among my favorite people, and our Friday morning time together is one of the highlights of my week.

Right now we're reading " a Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian McLaren - we wanted something that would stretch our thinking in a new direction.

Something I've realized in part through reading McLaren's book, and in part through reading some other books both old and new, is that at the root of almost all bad theology is bad anthropology. To say it another way: a poor understanding of mankind is almost always at the root of a poor understanding of God.

When we view mankind as basically good and make the improvement of mankind's experience on this earth the focal point of our belief, we point ourselves at a theological ditch and floor the gas pedal.

We have to start with what is true about God, and understand humanity in light of that. From there we can start talking about what "orthodoxy" looks like. But if we begin with what the church should do to improve the experience of humanity on this earth, I think we take a pretty short-sighted view of eternity, and a small-sighted view of God.

When we do that, the end result of our missional existence is not "the good of the world (McLaren, 117)," but the glorification of God. Those are two radically different finish lines. And if your shooting for two different finish lines, you're running two different races.


We're taking the young singles on a retreat this weekend. We retreat a lot at McKinney. I think it's important for us to get away, connect with each other, and take a deep breath. So, our ministries retreat, our staff team retreats, our leadership teams retreat, and we retreat as individuals.

Lots of churches use retreats for pretty intense teaching teams. I'm not opposed to that, but for most of our retreats I take a different approach. Since we're at a church that places an extremely high value on teaching, we don't have to get away to do that. We also don't use retreats to do intense planning very frequently. It just seems silly to me for us to pay a ton of money to go someplace pretty nice, and then hole up in a conference room to plan while we've got a perfectly good conference room back here at the church. I may change my mind on that in the future, but that's where I'm at today.

We use the majority of our retreats for rest, relaxation, prayer, and community. This weekend, I'll teach two brief sessions titled "Teach us to pray..." but they'll be short and followed by some time to get away and pray. The rest of our time will be completely unstructured. We want it to be as laid back as possible, and a time for people to spend time investing in relationships they wouldn't have made margin for in Fort Worth.

Looking forward to a great time.


We had a meeting last night with 8 young singles who are interested in doing a one year or two year global mission project in the next couple of years. They won't all go, but a few of them might. It's really exciting to see young singles get excited about what God is doing in the world, and for them to be excited about the possibility of being stretched and used in new ways.

One of the girls made a comment last night that I thought was especially neat. When asked why she was considering moving overseas, she said (paraphrasing), "Because I don't want to be boring. I want to be involved in the things the God of the Universe is doing; extraordinary things."

Whether you pick up and move overseas, or walk next door to your neighbor's house, when you're investing your life in the plan and purpose of the Creator of the Universe, your life can't help but be extraordinary. That takes a lot of different forms for each of us, but I'm also convinced that many of us are content settling for boring.

Even when we live on the edge, we often live there by doing things our own way, with our own power, in our own time, with our own resources. In the big scheme of things, when compared to leaning in to the plan and purpose of an eternal God, even life on the edge is boring.

I agree with the girl in our meeting. I don't want to settle for boring. Not when I have a chance to be a part of what God is doing in my neighborhood, city, state, country, and world. I want to be a part of something extraordinary.


Several weeks ago someone turned me on to Jott. It's a free service online you can use to send yourself (or someone else) emails when you're away from a computer. It's a piece of cake: Call Jott's phone number, follow the voice prompts, speak a message into the phone, and look for the message in email form in your inbox the next time you go to the computer.

It's unbelievably accurate, even if you speak quickly. Try it.

Even if you don't normally need reminders, sign up for an account. Then call the number and send a Jott to yourself that says "I love you you handsome hunk." Those emails always make my day...


There's a sense in which discontent is a trait of a good leader. Good leaders see the things that could be rather than the things that are, and help push others towards the "could be." But as with most good leadership traits, discontent can also bite you on the butt.

Discontent has to be tempered by faithfulness, or it becomes destructive.

You may want to reach the world, but you have to start by being faithful to the people God has brought you. If you're serving at 1st Baptist Church in Podunk, Oklahoma it's okay to want to reach a postmodern generation, but that doesn't seem to be the arena where God has placed you. It's not okay to neglect the people of Podunk in the process. It's okay to want more influence at work, but you can't neglect your current position in your pursuit.

Discontent has to be balanced by faithfulness or you'll neglect the responsibility God has given you on one hand for the dream of what He might give you in the future. Be faithful where you are as you push towards what could be (Matthew 25:21; Luke 16:10).

Create or Partner?

One of the unique challenges of being a large church is the desire to do everything. Larger churches have more resources, people, and gifts be used in addressing all kinds of needs compared to smaller churches, so the temptation is to try to do everything on their own.

When a large church sees a need for more English as a Second Language classes in an area, it starts them. When it sees a need for a crisis pregnancy center, it starts one. When it sees a need for a homeless shelter, food pantry, and mentoring program, it starts one at the church.

We've chosen to go a different route, which I think is healthy. We are always extremely careful about starting a new ministry on our campus - especially if a similar one already exists in our area that we can partner with. There are lots of reasons for this philosophy, but here are a few:

1. It lets other churches get involved. Wedgewood Baptist Church isn't going to get really excited about dumping resources into the McKinney Church Crisis Pregnancy Center, but if there's a separate ministry doing Crisis Care, the potential exists for even more resources than we can give.

2. It decentralizes ministry. Ministry for our church doesn't just happen within our four walls. There's something very powerful about the Church doing ministry outside the church.

3. It allows ministries to locate themselves for maximum impact. Frankly, there are a ton of homeless people around Fort Worth, but not very many around our church. There's a need, but it isn't mainly here. We want to allow a person serving the homeless to be near the homeless. We want to go to them, not just drag them to us.

4. It allows ministries to do what they do without Big Brother looking over their shoulder. The temptation for some pastors to stick their nose in stuff they don't fully understand is just too strong. We have expectations for the parachurch ministries with whom we partner, but we don't have red tape. We're not looking over their shoulder to make sure they're doing it out way... we want the specialists to do it their way.

The local church is not the hope of the world - Jesus is. And as much as we can, we want to help connect people to ministries that are strategically located and empowered in such a way that they can hear about Jesus. That means we can't do it all here.

When an Image Gives you Life

Yesterday I mentioned how hard it is to do illustrations well. You have to be incredibly skilled to be able to use an "image" to make a point, and avoiding it being the point people remember. Jesus did this masterfully throughout the Gospels. His images were carefully chosen, and used in such a way that they made His point without distracting from it.

My favorite is at the last supper when He uses the illustration of bread and wine - two staples at virtually every first century Jewish meal. When He held up the bread, He held up something Jewish families ate all the time. They prepared it. They smelled it baking. They touched it and tasted it every time they sat down for a meal.

When Jesus said "every time you do this, remember Me," He was tying something to their mind that would never be undone. It was bigger than just communion every week. Every time they walked through the market and smelled the fresh-baked bread they should remember Him. Every time they sat down at a meal and broke the bread to pass around, they should remember Him. Every time they ate a sandwich, they should remember Him.

His image was common to the speaker and the audience, it was relatable, and it was unbelievably simple. But the point was clear.

A lot of times, I work really hard to develop an illustration to the point people understand the direction I'm taking it. Then, my main point becomes more of a punch-line. When Jesus used illustrations/images to make His point, He found illustrations that didn't need much introducing. Fig trees were everywhere. Bread and wine were staples of dinner. Mustard seed grew like ragweed. And because the illustrations were simple, common, and didn't need explanation, they didn't distract from the real point Jesus was trying to make.